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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #24 - "Remiel"


Chapter 13
"Wheel of Fire"
by Matt Michael (with additional material by Will Howells and Gregg Smith)


---


"Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

— Pope, An Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735)


* * *


"A wise man once said that the past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. Well, I'm habitually confused, and very often scared half to death. But, even if I say so myself, I'm a pretty dab hand at resisting temptation. I think my record speaks for itself on that score.


       "Or, at least, it did."


       Holmes used the security pass Maggie had given him to gain access to the Azrael Institute. It was a grey, squat building crouched threateningly below the slender, soaring spires of the city. It reminded him of a military bunker from one of those Twentieth Century wars, a place built to keep secrets and to weather out a storm. The entrance hall, however, belied external appearances, like an attractive personality caught in a timeworn body. The gaudily painted ceiling rose, buttressed, above Holmes' head, and to each side arterial corridors stretched for what seemed like kilometres into the distance. Holmes nervously approached the reception area. The receptionist, perched behind a wide, marble-effect desk, smiled politely at him, waiting for the inevitable question. Fear fluttered through Holmes' brain and his pulse pounded at the back of his eyes, a moth caught in a bottle.


       "Ms Lear. I'm here to see Ms Lear." Holmes shuffled.


       The receptionist accessed his terminal. He glanced up at Holmes. "Can I ask if you have an appointment, sir?"


       "Erm, yes. My name's Watson. John Watson." Holmes prayed that Maggie was right when she'd promised him Remiel would sort out access to Azrael. After all, the recent newscasts had reported new virtual security measures in the wake of that nasty business at InGen. He fingered the polycarbide pistol stuffed into his pocket. It was an unwieldy weapon, but the only thing that could easily pass the security scanners. He didn't want to use it if he could help it. It was projectile based, and very messy.


       "I'm sorry sir," the receptionist started. Holmes gasped, involuntarily, and his hands closed around the pistol. "Was the name Watson?"


       "Yes. Yes, it was," he stammered, mouth dry.


       "Confirmed. You're a little early, sir. Perhaps you'd like to help yourself to one of our selection of hot and cold beverages in the reception lounge to your right."


       "No thank you. I'd like to get straight to Ms Lear's office if I may."


       "Very well, sir. You need to take the elevator down to Level Eight, turn left and follow the red route marked out. Ms Lear's office and reception room are 8.65."


       "Thanks. Thank you. Very much. Excuse me." Holmes hurried to the elevator, pushing past expensively dressed executives and their remora in cheap imitations. It was only after the doors closed behind him that he started to relax a little.


       But not too much. He had no delusions about this "mission". Within the next few minutes, everyone inside Azrael would be dead. It was mad, but that followed because Holy Joe was clearly quite insane. Holmes shivered at the memory of his rant about gathering storm clouds, "his" people hiding from the apocalyptic cloudburst, made immortal in the dreams of a thousand others. But it is best never to argue with a madman — unless you yourself are deranged — and so Holmes had simply nodded placatingly, all the while silently praying for a way out, a way to escape this lunatic's deluded reality.


       "Immortal?" he had ventured in the wake between two maniac squalls.


       Holy Joe had stared into his eyes, and once again he had felt the sensation of another intelligence, something scalding him with cold fire. "Yes, of course. We will — we must — survive. It cannot be any other way. For if we die then the Enemy will triumph, and that possibility is beyond contemplation."


       "And who is the Enemy?"


       "Who else? Death. Death is the Enemy of all living things."


       Holmes had started to cry.


       And now, as he left the lift, those tears returned as he wept for poor, lost Mavis; for the receptionist, and for all those people here who would die in one moment of fire and destruction. But most of all, he cried for himself, for all the choices that had led him like a veal calf from the shadows of delusion into the burning brightness of this final, terrible understanding. All the choices that had, in the end, left him with no choice at all.


* * *


Elsewhere in the building, and though he had yet to realise it, the Doctor was staring into the face of the Enemy. "Ruth, just shoot him! If you don't stop him it'll engender paradox all over again!" Ruth was pointing the staser directly at Mavis-Ryan's chest, her finger flickering on the trigger. "Do it now," he encouraged, at the same time desperately wrestling with the grey woman.


       Ruth lowered the staser. "I can't do that Doctor. You promised me that if you could work out what's happened to this woman," she gestured at Mavis-Ryan, "you might be able to save Sam. I can't risk you breaking that promise. I can risk the woman getting hurt, maybe even dying. I don't know anything about this technology. This gun might be set to kill."


       "It isn't." The Doctor was exasperated now. He glared at Ruth through the crook of his elbow, struggling to force down the grey woman's arm. She gave an outraged cry, and kneed him in the stomach, rolling him onto his side. "You see," he continued on his back, "I wouldn't do that because I'm the Champion of Life and I save everyone - ouch - as I was saying, I save everyone because — oomph — that's just what I do, and so you see I won't allow any harm to come to Mavis." He was breathless now, eyes rolling as the grey woman clamped her hands around his throat and pressed down.


       Ryan-Mavis looked amused, but his tone of voice was cold and dead. "You killed me, Doctor. I offered you a gun. You took it. You shot me down."


       "I sacrificed you to save many lives," choked the Doctor.


       "'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.' Do you honestly believe that, Doctor? Must some be sacrificed if all are to be saved?"


       "I had no choice."


       "Of course you did. There is always choice, as well you know. You simply chose that I should be killed so many could live. Now you have to make that same choice. Look me in the eyes, Doctor. End my life. Save the universe."


       "And sacrifice my soul, that's what you want." The Doctor slapped away the grey woman's hands and took a deep gulp of air.


       "Yes!" Ryan's eyes burned with a fanatical glee. "Your soul will belong to us. Once you kill me again, and all those that share this body, you are on the path that leads straight into our arms. If you don't kill me then you condemn the cosmos to death, and I know that you will never contemplate that possibility - indeed, you have already sacrificed your own life to prevent it on more than one occasion. Kill me, as you must, and you murder thirty individuals, thirty sentient consciousnesses. Defeat us, Doctor? No, you will become us."


       Suddenly the grey woman's arms went slack and she collapsed like a puppet after its strings are cut. The Doctor pushed her off him, and stood, panting.


       "Oh no," she whispered, staring in utter horror up at Ryan. "They're here"


       The Doctor rubbed his neck. "What's the matter now?"


       "The Enemy, inimical to all living things. Everything we have planned. All our dreams in ashes. All of them!" Tears scalded the grey woman's face.


       The Doctor stared at Ryan. This wasn't turning out quite the way he'd expected. "What are you?"


       "What you will be. All through your current life you have cheated Death, Doctor. You've defrauded her out of what is rightfully hers. Temporal orbits, paradoxes, memory tanks, all devised to snatch back the lives of your friends. You know, there was a time when you wouldn't have dreamt of meddling in such things. You allowed that boy Adric to pass in a thousand glittering fragments. You abandoned millions to their deaths to avoid upsetting Earth's oh-so delicate time stream. Yet now your presumption, your arrogance, allows you to believe that you are the saviour of all you behold. Life's Champion, you say? No, Life's Charlatan, a trickster who cheats to win!


       "But you must always have known there would be a reckoning, a moment when you would be held to account for your actions. That time is this time, and you have a choice, Doctor. The deaths of every living being in the universe through inaction and paradox, or thirty conscious individuals by your own hand. Choose. Now."


* * *


Holmes ignored the concerned glances of a couple of suited executives as he wiped the tears from his eyes. The bomb was heavy in his rucksack, like a demon crouched on his shoulder. He snivelled again at the idea that his entire life had led him to this moment, nothing but a tool of destruction, the instrument of another's vengeance.


       He walked past Lear's office, followed the red tape that marked the route to his destiny. Maggie had told him that the red path led to the Institute's Holy of Holies, the epicentre of the coming storm. And now, even though he would have given anything to be somewhere else, he found he was drawn irresistibly towards the sanctum as a moth to flame.


* * *


"Ruth, just stun him," the Doctor shouted. He was angry now — Ruth could see that. She looked at the weapon in her hand.


       "Death purifies us, she washes over us. All are made as one in that last, glorious embrace. Let Death into your life, Doctor."


       "Please Ruth, if you stun him I'll be able to extract him and save everyone inside Mavis." Maybe it was for the best. The Doctor wouldn't lie to her. But then again, he'd killed Purity before. What was there to say that he wasn't going to use her to do it again, commit murder and then claim that she had killed Mavis of her volition.


       But the choice was taken away from her as a heavy bag smacked her hard on the side of the head, knocking her flat. Holmes picked his rucksack up, struggling to get it onto his shoulder. He waved a clunky black pistol at the Doctor. "Don't move. No-one move. I've got a gun."


       "Yes, I can see." The Doctor eyed the gun. "I suppose you've been sent by the Remiel Objection."


       Holmes nodded.


       "And were you aware that the Objection is actually bankrolled by the Freedom Foundation? And that the man who runs it, a fellow by the name of Josiah, is carrying around a grafted-on alien intelligence inside his head? One of the aliens that created this project in the first place?"


       "Yes."


       "Oh." The Doctor looked slightly put out. "Do you know why?" he ventured, hopefully.


       "Yes."


       Ryan circled the new arrival. "They killed one of their own, murdered her and hid her in his dreams. A little invisible sister for him."


       "Yes, a neat way of ensuring that neither the Foundation nor the Objection became a threat to the plan. And a despicable violation of a sentient being," the Doctor spat at the grey woman. She ignored him, too busy weeping into the folds of her dress.


       "I agree, Doctor," said Ryan. "But now they know we know about this scheme, I doubt they will waste much time in ending it. They believe that anything touched by us will mean death for them. A minor victory. They always have another plan. In any case, I never doubted that once you uncovered their operation you would shut it down. We wanted you for another purpose. And you still have to decide, Doctor. Kill me or kill the universe."


       "Oh God, no. You're in there as well, aren't you. You've got inside her." Holmes was screaming now, waving the gun madly. The Doctor sensed an opportunity, and began to edge closer to him, waiting for a moment when he could knock the gun away. "Get out of her, you bastards. Get out!"


       Ryan snarled. "Don't interfere. This is something far beyond your tiny frame of reference. Leave us."


       "No. No, I won't let you have her. She's suffered so much, I won't have her used any more. No more!" Holmes fired the pistol into Ryan-Mavis' chest, emptying the cartridge. Red stains spread across her chest, and a fountain of blood erupted from her mouth, dribbling across her chin like smudged lipstick. "You can't have her," he screamed. "Let her go, leave her alone."


       The Doctor fell backwards, mouth slack, eyes wide.


       Ruth, woozily rising from where she had fallen, collapsed again, watched as her one chance to save Sam died in an angry cloud of bullets.


       Mavis-Ryan was on the floor now, gargling with blood like some obscene mouthwash. Holmes crawled across to her side, red-rimmed eyes opening like some festering wound to pour out more grief.


       Holmes stroked Mavis' green and orange hair, cradling her between his knees.


       "Will there be butterflies?" Mavis asked.


       "Yes, yes my love, there are butterflies."


       "I love you, pumpkin," she said. Her spirit stretched its wings, flapped them experimentally, and then soared upwards and she was gone.


       Holmes bowed his head. "She didn't deserve this."


       "No," said the Doctor. "But then, no-one does." He paused. "I need your help. And your bomb. It's very important, and it could mean the difference between life and death for the entire universe."


       "And Mavis?"


       "Can be saved, I think. Trust me."


       "We have failed," moaned the grey woman. "They are already here, inside us."


       "Oh be quiet. You've caused quite enough trouble for one millennium," snapped the Doctor. He strode across to where she lay pulling at her hair. "Now I suggest you leave, and tell your superiors or whoever they are that your plans and schemes have unravelled like a badly-knitted quantum bubble. Oh, and if I were you I'd wipe all traces of your unpleasant technology from this system. I'm sure you wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands."


       The grey woman glared at him as she snatched up the biodata knife. "They are right about one thing, Doctor. There will be a reckoning." And with that she was gone, vanishing like a butterfly at the end of summer.


       "I'm sure there will be," the Doctor said quietly. "But not today."


* * *


The Doctor paid the vendor and handed Ruth her ice cream. He took a big lick of his own, savouring the flavour and the pleasantly cool sensation on his tongue. They walked across to a bench, and the Doctor sat. He crossed his legs, then tutted as a blob of ice cream dripped onto his slacks. Ruth stood, delicately swirling her cornet over her tongue.


       "It'll be hard for people to accept that Azrael has gone, Doctor. So many rely on the grafting. For a start, we'll have to go back to plain old DNA tracking in homicide investigations." Ruth shrugged.


       The Doctor shook his head, accidentally smearing ice cream on his nose as he did so. "Sad. Azrael weren't corrupt any more than Remiel were evil. They were both manipulated by the Freedom Foundation, played off against each other. The Azrael Institute created — or so it believed — a new technology that divided consensus. The Remiel Objection led the dissenting voices. Then, when Remiel started a campaign to kill off minor dignitaries, public opinion turned on them as well. The result would have been chaos, a society torn apart and ripe for the Freedom Foundation to step in and take control. Divide and conquer is one of the oldest rules in the book, and one at which the Foundation has become adept. The irony is that the Foundation was being manipulated by other forces, forces providing the grafting technology for their own purposes."


       "And those forces wanted to use the grafting technology to help then win a war?"


       "They were trying to avoid fighting. Galactic draft dodgers." The Doctor nibbled the wafer cone. "They thought they could escape their fates by hiding inside your people, rather like you might sit in a car to avoid being hit by lightning. Good insulation. Rubber tyres, you see." He licked the ice cream down to a level, then started on the cone again.


       "And the Enemy?"


       "Stopped their little scheme. It seems that they managed to infiltrate the grubby underground railway. They managed to graft one of their own onto Mavis."


       "Ryan Purity."


       The Doctor finished the last mouthful of cone and wiped his lips on the back of his hand. "Perhaps. Perhaps Ryan was simply the means by which they hoped to ensnare me, win my support in the coming conflict. Maybe there was something else, something deeper." The Doctor frowned. "Maybe it already existed inside Ryan. Or maybe they've been after me for a long time, trying to force me to make choices they knew would cause me pain, cause me to doubt myself. Maybe they've been watching me, looking for someone like Ryan who could be used against me when the right moment came. Maybe the Enemy is just the agent of another power, used by them as the Foundation were used by the grey woman and her people. Maybe, maybe, maybe." He shrugged, and smiled, and to Ruth it was like the sun peeping from behind a black cloud.


       "But you didn't have to make the choice."


       "No. No, I didn't. I managed to cheat Death again." A shadow passed over the Doctor's face. He glanced up to see pendulous cumuli gathering on the horizon. "There's a storm coming."


       Ruth shivered.


* * *


Capadoceous Prime: Sunday.

The Doctor, Jadi, Luke and Holmes wait for news — any news — as anxious as expectant fathers. The fates of Kirena, Ezekiel Barnes, Mavis and thirty- odd others depend on the ability of these physicians to successfully graft their personalities onto cloned bodies. The chief surgeon, a prim man with a snide nose, has already informed the Doctor that the process has never been tried before. Worse still, it is not possible to simply strip away grafts from a hosts body. The host must die if the personalities housed within are to live. The Doctor has already given his permission for Zeke to die. One death for two lives, including the host's. It should be a fair exchange but the Doctor knows, somehow, that it isn't. He paces, more nervous than the others, wondering if, just one more time, he can cheat Death out of what is rightfully hers. The door to the waiting area swings open. One of the physicians enters, face unreadable. It is time.


       "Doctor?" Jadi said. The Doctor opened his mouth to answer. But Jadi wasn't talking to him.


       "Is the news good?" asked Holmes, compulsively rubbing at his eyes.


       The physician chewed his lip. "You have to understand that the transfers aren't absolutely stable. We did the best we could given the complexity of the personality graft, but you have to realise only a hint of the original Kirena survived the initial transfer. This second transfer, well, there's been further pattern degradation. I'm afraid that Kirena isn't quite all there."


       "What do you mean?" Luke was appalled. "Is she some sort of vegetable?"


       "Oh no, you misunderstand. She acts like Kirena, she talks like Kirena, but her memories, the little things that made her who she was, have been whittled away. All the major events are still there, all the key foundations of her personality, but the smaller moments — the look on her mother's face when she kissed her goodbye, the smell of her first lover and the like — are gone."


       The Doctor was ashen. "Is there anything else we should know?"


       The physician looked down. "Yes, just one more thing."


* * *


The timeline now resolves thusly: Jadi uses the time ring to return to Kapone. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Luke, Holmes and clones of Kirena, Zeke and Mavis return to New Cheadle. The Doctor takes Zeke home first, hands him over to his wife and children. He doesn't tell them that this is a clone, a not-quite-perfect replica of the original. Best for Zeke to break that to them himself. Or not. It's his choice. Privately, the Doctor wonders how much pattern degradation there has been, whether Zeke will ever be quite the same person.


       The Doctor then takes the clone of Mavis back to the point when the original Mavis was taken from her time stream. It was impossible for the physicians to fully reconstruct her personality. There were too many others inside her head, including early, only half-successful experiments, for them to be separated out. Secretly the Doctor is relieved — there were people in there whom he didn't exactly want to meet, far less have wandering around the streets. Perhaps it is better this way, better that Mavis lives in her private world of words and butterflies. She's been through so much that the Doctor doubts she could ever function completely normally. One thing he has done for her is to have Purity removed and his biodata locked away in a tiny databox that now rattles around in one of his pockets. Even at the end, he couldn't let Purity die. In a way, he supposes that it's actually crueller to confine him, pin him down like a butterfly in a collection. But he puts the thought from his head.


       The Doctor hands Holmes' bomb to Mavis, and whispers instructions to her. He promises her an ice cream if she does it properly. She skips off, smiling and muttering happily to herself, to set the bomb, to set off a chain reaction that will bring her back to this point.


       The others travel forward in time to the moment Mavis died. The Doctor deposits Holmes in the park next to the ice cream stall, handing him enough money to buy two of Luigi's finest ice creams. He watches from a distance as the cloned Mavis twirls and flutters to Holmes' side. They hug, and the Doctor turns away. He has already ensured that if Holmes reveals the names of other Remiel operatives, Ruth will make sure that all charges against him are dropped.


       And now the end is near, the wheel has turned full circle, and the Doctor finds that this will be the hardest moment of all.


       "Well, here we go again." There was a note of optimism in Luke's voice, something that the Doctor hadn't heard there for a long time. They'd just enjoyed a rather delicious meal at a little Chinese restaurant that Ruth had recommended to them.


       "Yes, here we go." The Doctor concurred. He smiled generously. "Time to say our farewells."


       Luke stopped. "I'm not leaving," he muttered. "I've decided."


       But the Doctor was shaking his head. "No Luke. No, you haven't decided. You're worried that every time you make a decision, people die. You're terrified that if you make this decision, there will be more pain and more death. So, just this once, I'm making it easy on you. I've made the decision for you because you're too afraid to make it yourself."


       "No!" Luke was furious now. "I won't have you dictate to me--"


       "Luke, Luke, Luke." The Doctor was shaking his head. "You have to leave, you know you do. You've already seen this moment."


       And Luke remembered with perfect clarity. The fake Gwilym. The time ring. The five of them standing by a bench, watching him say goodbye to his friends. "No," he whispered. But it was already too late. They were at the TARDIS and Kirena had him in a hug. He didn't turn round, didn't look at the bench. He didn't need to, he knew he was there, witnessing this moment. Everything was happening exactly how he remembered it, unfolding with the dreadful inevitability of a really good tragedy.


       Kirena backed off a little, but her right hand lingered on his shoulder. "So, this is goodbye," she said. She wiped a nascent tear from the corner of her eye. Then she hugged him again, more firmly. She could feel the tears coming now, and knew when they did she wouldn't be able to stop them. She released Luke, and hurried into the TARDIS.


       The Doctor stood for a moment, searching for words of wisdom, but nothing came. He grasped Luke's hand, then pulled him into a hug. Luke kissed him on the cheek, leaving a smear of lipstick, and then they parted.


       "'Thou art a soul in bliss,'" he said. "Something that Will once wrote"


       "Doesn't sound much like Wil to me," said Luke.


       "Believe me, you're better off out of it. I don't know what's coming and I wouldn't wish it on you."


       Luke nodded. "Look after Kirena. And think about a new outfit. There's a difference between crushed velvet and crumpled velveteen." He shook his head, mock horrified at the state of the Doctor's clothes, and smiled.


       The Doctor smiled back, then looked into the distance, searching for something else.


       Luke often wondered if he ever found it.


* * *


"Did it work, Doctor?" Kirena stood, arms crossed, over the console.


       "I think so." The Doctor shrugged off his coat, hurried to the console and keyed in the dematerialisation sequence. He looked up. "You're sure that's exactly how you remembered it?"


       "Exactly." Kirena looked troubled. "Doctor, why did you want Luke gone?"


       "I didn't. But I knew what he wanted, all he lacked was the courage to do it. I did what was best."


       "Best for him, or best for you? I think you were afraid of what Luke was capable of doing. To you. To himself. To the universe. I think you knew it was only a matter of time before he got us into a situation where one of us would die. Is that what you're doing, Doctor? Trying to outwit death?"


       There was a silence, finally broken by the Doctor. "I won today. But it won't always happen that way. There'll be a time when whatever choice I make I'll lose. When that day comes, I don't want Luke with me."


       "Did you win?" Kirena was angry now. "Is this winning? Is this a price worth paying? You know this memory graft isn't entirely stable. How long did the doctors give me before the matrix breaks down completely?"


       The Doctor looked away. "A few years. Seven or eight at most. Kirena, I'm so sorry."


       She uncrossed her arms, sighing as she did. "Don't be. Where there's life there's hope and all that guff." She smiled tightly. "Maybe I'll find a cure, maybe the doctors will come up with some way of stabilising my brain. Who knows?"


       The Doctor grinned. "That's the spirit. Where to now then, eh? "


       "Home," Kirena said firmly.


       The Doctor's face fell. "Home?"


       "My sister-in-law's about to give birth. I'm going to be an auntie, if you haven't forgotten."


       "Of course, of course." The Doctor skipped around the console with delight. "I love babies, they smell so innocent. Kapone, here we come."


       Kirena laughed at the Doctor's enthusiasm, and waltzed with him around the console room. Afterwards, he made them tea and produced a tin of fairy cakes topped with pink icing that he claimed had been baked by Nigella Lawson herself. Kirena hadn't the heart to tell him that she wouldn't be leaving Kapone with him. If what he said was true, if she really did only have a few years left she wanted to spend them with her family.


       It was funny, she thought later, but she couldn't remember for the life of her why she'd wanted to travel with him in the first place.


* * *


"Of course, I knew she wouldn't be coming with me again. I could see in her eyes that the old Kirena, the Kirena with the zest for adventure, who'd joined me just to prove a point, was gone. Another casualty in my long dance with Death. Another quick fix solution. Am I nothing but Life's Charlatan? A time-travelling fraud who wins out through sleight of hand? I don't know any more, and perhaps it's best not to find out.


       "When I think about the price I paid to win, I wonder if it was anything other than a Pyrrhic victory. Mavis and her secret friends, Zeke, Kirena — all reduced both in personality and lifespan. I saved them all, even Ryan. But I drove away Luke. I tampered with the fundamental forces of reality. I cheated. And I know that if I keep on saving everyone, if I keep on cheating, there will be a reckoning.


       "But what else can I do? Why is what used to come so easily now anathema to my entire nature? Am I a reaction against my own past? Did I become Life's Champion to avoid the fate that now awaits me — the destiny of Time's Champion? Could I champion any cause if I knew the answer?


       "I think I'll take the TARDIS into the vortex for a little while. She's in need of a bit of an overhaul, poor old thing. After all she's been through recently, what with Luke and me attacking her and those horrible time paradoxes to deal with, she and I could both do with some time alone together. See if the wounds will heal, even if the scars remain.


       "Now, TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual, TARDIS manual. You're not here, are you? I really must sort through these shelves properly some century soon..."


---
Fin.



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